Evolution of the Digital Society Reveals Balance between Viral and Mass Media Influence

Online social networks (OSNs) enable researchers to study the social universe at a previously unattainable scale. The worldwide impact and the necessity to sustain the rapid growth of OSNs emphasize the importance of unraveling the laws governing their evolution. Empirical results show that, unlike many real-world growing networked systems, OSNs follow an intricate path that includes a dynamical percolation transition. In light of these results, we present a quantitative two-parameter model that reproduces the entire topological evolution of a quasi-isolated OSN with unprecedented precision from the birth of the network. This allows us to precisely gauge the fundamental macroscopic and microscopic mechanisms involved. Our findings suggest that the coupling between the real preexisting underlying social structure, a viral spreading mechanism, and mass media influence govern the evolution of OSNs. The empirical validation of our model, on a macroscopic scale, reveals that virality is 4–5 times stronger than mass media influence and, on a microscopic scale, individuals have a higher subscription probability if invited by weaker social contacts, in agreement with the “strength of weak ties” paradigm.

Read the paper here: https://journals.aps.org/prx/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevX.4.031046

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